Informal Assessment of the Chasing Chaos Simulations 

A few general conclusions about the Chasing Chaos simulations that I’ve discussed previously:

Chasing ChaosStudents found the personal narrative of the Chasing Chaos book extremely engaging. Perhaps this is evidence that biographies and autobiographies should play a greater role in exposing students to unfamiliar people, places, and events. In an end-of-semester survey, students also commented that they thought the simulations were realistic and easy to understand. Some also said that they appreciated the way the simulations gave the entire class opportunities to interact even though each simulation lasted for only one to two class periods.

The briefing memos — in which students wrote about the assigned readings before each simulation — demanded too much creative thinking from students. Students simply never developed the ability to use information I provided to predict a potential future conflict and then recommend a response to it. As Bidisha Biswas and Agnieszka Paczynska note in their worthwhile recent article on teaching policy writing in PS, government agencies value employees who can analyze a situation and justify their recommended response to it in a clear, concise, relevant manner. To better give students practice in developing this skill, the briefing memo assignments probably should present students with a set conflict — perhaps the one described in each simulation’s intelligence report — to analyze and respond to, instead of requiring them to first fashion a hypothetical conflict themselves.

During the negotiation phase of the majority of the simulations, students abandoned their roles, so to speak, to try to achieve a unanimous agreement that would maximize the number of points earned toward their final grades. To me this is a good reason to simply eliminate the bonus-for-unanimous-agreement option. The downside of this change is that a truly competitive simulation in which not everyone can win might produce severe angst among students who have been raised in a culture of “everybody always wins because everybody is special.” On the other hand, students need to be introduced to reality at some point in their lives. In terms of my job security and career advancement, I am relatively well-insulated from the potential complaints of students whose narcissistic delusions of self-worth I punctured.

My last thought also relates to the potential cost to the instructor of using custom-made simulations. Due to declining enrollment and a change in the university’s core curriculum, I have no idea when I will next be teaching the course for which I developed these simulations. If I’m to avoid my labor going to waste, I’m going to have to figure out how to I can use the simulations in another course, which in itself means even more work on my part.